Rolling Stone and the lie deniers: the unjust ‘choose to believe’ Jackie’s tall story
Jessica Valenti has lots to say about the Rolling Stone story on Jackie, the woman who claimed she’d been gang raped at a University of Virginia frat house in a sickening attack.
There is no proof a rape occurred. But Jessica Valenti begins her story:
Despite documented errors with the reporting and editing of the magazine’s story of rape at the University of Virginia, they’re still blaming the victim
By victim, she should mean the Phi Kappa Psi frat house and all its members who ware labelled rapists (false report rate on rapes is low, between 2 and 8 percent). But she doesn’t mean those criminals-in-waiting. She means Jackie.
Rolling Stone just doesn’t get it. Months after the magazine published a widely-criticized article about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, the details of which proved unverifiable, those responsible still refuse to take any real responsibility. Instead, editors at the magazine once again placed the blame for their errors where it so often ends up when it comes to sexual assault: on a young woman who alleges she was raped.
The blame falls on the people who were too willing and eager to believe the worst of men in a frat house. The blame falls on those who were working to an agenda. The blame falls on the magazine that wanted a sensational story at all costs.
On Sunday night, Rolling Stone released the results of an external investigation conducted by Steve Coll, the dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, who calls the 2014 article an “avoidable” failure. The reporter behind the story, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, has apologized and her original article has been replaced with the extensive report.
Erdeley’s apology omits to mention the innocent frat house. She apologises to everyone except the frat house branded violent gang rapists.
Coll’s findings show multiple layers of mistakes and and easily-fixed lapses of judgement from Erdely, multiple editors, a fact-checker and possibly an in-house lawyer. Yet instead of fully owning up to their obvious and egregious journalistic errors, Rolling Stone blames their failures on – wait for it – caring too much about rape victims.
Coll reported that “the editors and Erdely have concluded that their main fault was to be too accommodating of Jackie because she described herself as the survivor of a terrible sexual assault.” Sean Woods, the main editor of the article, said, “we were too deferential to our rape victim; we honored too many of her requests in our reporting.”
‘Our rape victim’? This wasn’t a story. This was a self-serving campaign for the righteous to advertise their sound morals, a version of the #illridewithyou hashtag that gave enlightened white non-Muslims solidarity with Sydney’s Muslims after an Islamist gunman held people hostage in a cafe in Sydney.
But facts matter. Valenti, after all, is a writer who told her Guardian readers:
Fully 20% of undergraduate women – again, one in every five university women – report being victims of rape or attempted rape during their time at college. (And we all know that these numbers don’t reflect the full universe of sexual assault victims, because many victims – including many men – never report.)
One in five female students on university campuses had been the victim of rape or attempted rape? Wow! All woman have a 1-in-5 chance of being raped on campus?
Barack Obama used the statistic to showcase his attitudes to women. (This is Obama who compared Sarah Palin to “putting lipstick on a pig”). He said:
It is estimated that 1 in 5 women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time there — 1 in 5. These young women worked so hard just to get into college, often their parents are doing everything they can to help them pay for it. So when they finally make it there only to be assaulted, that is not just a nightmare for them and their families, it’s an affront to everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve. It’s totally unacceptable.
That is incredible. And it is untrue. Ashe Schow notes:
The statistic comes from a 2007 Campus Sexual Assault study conducted by the National Institute of Justice, a division of the Justice Department. The researchers made clear that the study consisted of students from just two universities, but some politicians ignored that for their talking point, choosing instead to apply the small sample across all U.S. college campuses.
The survey found that between 1995 and 2013, an average of 6.1 for every 1,000 female students were raped or sexually assaulted each year. That’s about 0.61 percent annually, or (at most) 2.44 percent over the average four-year period (one in 41). That’s way smaller than 20 percent. That’s also virtually unchanged from 2005, the last time BJS put out this report, where the rate of rape among college women was 6 per 1,000.
Moreover, the average rate since 1995 overstates the danger to women on campuses today, because the rape and sexual assault rate on campus has fallen since the mid-1990s. College women were even safer on campus in 2013, with only 4.3 rapes for every 1,000 college women.
Facts can really get in the way of a good story.
But Jessica Valenti isn’t listening. She also wrote in the Guardian:
One in five women is sexually assaulted at American universities – so Jackie’s story wasn’t so uncommon.
It was just untrue.
Valenti says “rape is an epidemic now”. And in her hunt for truth and justice she says:
I choose to believe Jackie. I lose nothing by doing so, even if I’m later proven wrong – but at least I will still be able to sleep at night for having stood by a young woman who may have been through an awful trauma.
But if you believe Jackie, you also believe the men at the frat house are rapists. It’s not something that overly worries Valenti who says of men being the victims of false rape clims:
Too many of us are more comfortable taking on imaginary problems rather than real ones – but reflexive thought experiments don’t stop rape or address the real underlying problems. They only do a disservice to the victims.
So much for evidence, facts and circumspection. So much for journalism. The men are guilty because you believe them to be. (For more on how well that works out, read about the Scottsborough Boys, victims of a mob mentality).
Valenti has more to say on the Rolling Stone debacle:
But these mistakes were not made because writers and editors were protecting a young woman they believed to be traumatized. Coll found that, despite the editors’ insistence that mistakes made were out of a heightened sensitivity to rape victims, “Erdely’s reporting records and interviews with participants make clear that the magazine did not pursue important reporting paths even when Jackie had made no request that they refrain.”
“The editors made judgments about attribution, fact-checking and verification that greatly increased their risks of error but had little or nothing to do with protecting Jackie’s position,” he wrote.
Maybe, like Valenti, they just “choose to believe”?
Fact-checking chief Coco McPherson said to Coll, “I one hundred percent do not think that the policies that we have in place failed. I think decisions were made around those because of the subject matter.”
Senior staff at the magazine are so sure that the errors made in the piece were a fluke related to the topic that there will be no disciplinary action in the wake of the investigation, nor will Rolling Stone editors amend their editorial process. “I don’t think we need to necessarily institute a lot of new ways of doing things,” Dana said.
Yet over and over again, the report makes clear that it wasn’t deference to Jackie at the center of the magazine’s missteps, but numerous bad decisions in the writing and editing process: they didn’t follow up on key details, they didn’t verify quotes, they used a single source, they employed inadequate fact-checking and more.
And, like Erdeley, Valenti make not single mention of the innocent frat house branded violent gangs rapists:
Rolling Stone’s claim that their mistakes all came out of concern for a young rape victim are irresponsible: in the midst of an all-out backlash against so-called PC culture and anti-rape activism, they shirked their real responsibility both to Jackie and to all the victims of sexual assault, and it will have a resounding impact on those working to end sexual violence.
Rolling Stone created a mess for the men and women trying to end sexual violence on campus and off, and it should be the magazine’s job to clean it up. They’ve chosen instead to wash their hands of any wrongdoing – all because of their deep respect for rape victims.
Meanwhile, one in 5 ‘frat boys’ is a rapist. It’s true. I read it in the Guardian…